Tonya Couch May Have a Defense to Hindering Apprehension

Tonya Couch is now back on US soil and will soon be headed to Tarrant County to face the felony charge of Hindering Apprehension. The Tarrant County District Attorney Sharon Wilson has already announced that her office will seeking a high bond and will going for a conviction with pen time. It looks like a simple case at first glance but do her actions constitute a crime under Texas law?

The Texas Hindering Apprehension law usually applies in cases where a person hides a fugitive who law enforcement is seeking for a crime he has committed. If I am the suspect in a convenience store robbery and my mother hides me from the authorities then she could be charged with Hindering Apprehension. Tonya Couch’s case is a little different. Her son Ethan Couch wasn’t wanted for a new crime he committed. He was wanted for missing a meeting with a probation officer. He is facing a probation revocation. He broke a rule that the judge told him to follow.  Does that make a difference. Well at least one Texas Appellate Court has said yes

Back in 1990 the Tyler Court of Appeals ruled that helping a person avoid arrest for a probation revocation isn’t a crime under the Hindering Apprehension statute. That case is Key v State 800 S.W.2d 229. In that case Mr Key was accused of harboring a man in his house who was wanted for a probation violation on a felony. He was convicted and appealed. The Tyler Appeals  court reversed that conviction and entered an acquittal. It all came down to how the court interpreted the word ” offense”.

A person can be prosecuted for hindering the arrest, prosecution, conviction or punishment of another for an “offense”. The court ruled that in this case the arrest in question was for a warrant to secure the presence of the fugitive for a revocation hearing. The warrant was not for a criminal ” offense”. Therefore Mr Key’s actions  weren’t covered by the statue.

The defense attorney in Tonya Couch’s case  could try make the same argument. Ethan Couch was wanted for missing a meeting not a new criminal offense. Now the Key case is not the law of the land. The reasoning could be over ruled in the future but if I were the defense attorney in this case I would pursue this defense.

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